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  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier

Biking Tuscany to Umbria

Tuscany, Umbria, Italy, Planet Backpacker
It's 200 miles or so through Tuscany to Umbria.

Signed copies of the expanded second edition, featuring more than 40 routes and 1,400 miles of cycling.


Travels With My Wife


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      For travelers, Tuscany has the same fairytale mystique as such off-the-map places as Wonderland, Oz, Never-Neverland and Middle Earth.  The name itself rolls off the tongue like a morsel of Italian poetry from the 15th century.  Tuscany, eternal Tuscany.

   And that mystique only deepens for those blessed with the chance to bicycle  through these eternal hill towns and farmlands, which don't appear to have changed much in the past 1,000 years or so.  You wander through an impressionistic painting of vineyards, poplars, olive groves and cypress trees  lining old dirt roads, caressing stone farmhouses and hilltop villas.

   We spent a week riding more than 200 miles through the Tuscan countryside on our way to Umbria, staying at old Italian inns and pensione-style hotels high atop the medieval hill towns.

   Those towns were sited in the hills far above the Italian plain as protection against brigands and barbarians which swept along the trade routes of Italy for thousands of years.  The hill towns make for picturesque lodgings and views which sweep for 30 miles or more, but also for a very tough uphill climb of a mile or two straight up at the end of each day of cycling.

   We rented our hybrid bikes from an outfit called Iron Donkey, based out of Northern Ireland.  We opted for a self-guided tour, which included lodgings with breakfast, a detailed map, repair kit, and a small set of panniers for each bike.

   Local cyclist Giovanni met us in Sienna to provide us with our bikes and gear, and without anything more than a change of clothes and our toiletries, we set out for a week of cycling that took us through Montalcino, Montepulciano, Monte San Savino, and Cortona, then over the mountains to Sansepolcro in Umbria.

Tuscany, Planet Backpacker
A typical hill town in Tuscany -- tough cycling up to your hotel!
Tuscany, Italy, Planet Backpacker
Tuscan food -- sometimes overrated.

   Two days in Firenze (Florence) have us stuffed to the gills with medieval and Renaissance art, and also about $75 poorer in museum fees.    The sculpture of David was mesmerizing -- beyond words when you see it in person; somewhere between 10 and 14 feet tall and so lifelike you wouldn't be surprised if it started walking out the door,    The Museo Uffi also had many fabulous sculptures collected or commissioned by the Medici family which ruled Firenze.  Greek gods and busts of caesars abound... Otherwise, this museum is stuffed with depressing religious art -- crucifixions, martyrs, madonna and child stuff that haunts Europe in thousands of paintings, along with many naked fat lady depictions of Venus.    When you see all of this religious art, you understand why the people of old Europe were so busy murdering and massacring each other over their differences in dogma.    

  Have gotten rather tired of spaghetti and pizza -- zeroing in more on salads, when possible. Haven't been too impressed with that famed Tuscan cuisine yet, except for some unseasoned white beans, though they do sell a beef dish here that runs about $35 for a thin sliver of meat. Not for us.  Unfortunately, the Tuscan food served to tourists tends to fall short of all the hoo-ha you read in the bestsellers.

Tuscany, Italy, Planet Backpacker
Traditional Tuscan hotels ooze romance, and often spectacular views.
Firenze, Italy, Tuscany, Planet Backpacker
You won't lack for photo ops in Tuscany: A bridge in Firenze
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